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Full text of "Atheism"

Library of 
Emory University 



133717 



APR 2 8 1942 




Atheism 



BY 

Bishop W A. Candler 

Senior Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal 
Church, South 



TSJ? 
t 



Department op Tracts 

Publishing House of the M. E. Church, South 

Lamar & Whitmore, Agents 

Nashville, Tenn. 



Atheism 



The Hebrew psalmist says: "The fool 
hath said in his heart there is no God." 
(Ps. 14:1,; 52:2.) 

The fools whom he observed were not 
foolish enough to say aloud, "There is no 
God"; they said it only in their hearts. 
Their unspoken atheism was so discredit- 
able that they would not utter it in the 
hearing of other persons. 

But the atheists of our day are more 
arrogant and aggressive. They are so 
shameless that they publish their atheism 
from the housetops and organize an in- 
corporated association to propagate it. 
Their folly, however, springs from the 
same source and is of the same sort as that 
of those whom the psalmist characterized 
as fools. 

The Hebrew seer and singer traced the 
Godless creed of the fools of his day to 
their lawless conduct, saying:" They are 
corrupt; they have done abominable 
works. There is none that doeth good." 
(Ps. 14: 1.) With this view, Sir 
Francis Bacon agrees when he says: 
"Atheism is rather in the life than in the 
hearts of men." 



No other explanation of its origin and 
inspiration can be found. It is an eccen- 
tricity ' of mind which points to a devia- 
tion from morality; for belief in theexist- 
ance of God seems to be instinctive with 
all unperverted men and as universal as 
mankind. To this fact Plutarch bears 
witness in these words: "If you go round 
the world you may find cities without 
walls, or literature, or kings, or houses, 
or wealth, or money; without gymnasia, 
or theaters. But no one ever saw a city 
without temples or gods, one which does 
not have recourse to prayers, or oaths, or 
oracles; which does not offer sacrifice to 
obtain blessings, or which does not cele- 
brate rites to avert evils." 

To the same effect speaks Cicero: 
"There is no people so wild and so savage 
as not to have believed in a God, even if 
they have been unacquainted with his 
nature. Now, a thing concerning 

which the nature of all men agrees must 
of necessity be true." 

This universal belief in the existence of 
God would be a strange thing, indeed, if 
there were not for it a corresponding 
reality. It would be a miscarriage of 
nature more marvelous and monstrous 
than eyes without light, ears without 
sound, and appetite without food and 
drink. It is certain that intuition, or the 
observation of the facts of the universe, 
or both, combine to produce in the minds 
of all men an almost overwhelming con- 
viction that there is a God ; and this world- 
wide conviction is no mean proof of the 

3 



divine existence for which it calls and 
which answers its cry. 

This conviction is as persistent through 
the ages as it is pervasive among all races. 
Neither clime nor time is able to prevail 
over it. Often criticised, it is never con- 
quered by criticism, but always triumphs 
over all opposition which rises up to ex- 
tinguish it. A notable example of its in- 
vincible strength and deathless power is 
furnished by the French Revolution. On 
August 10, 1793, a great festival was held 
to celebrate the final overthrow of religion 
and the opening of the reign of Nature 
and Reason in the place of the dethroned 
deity. Nevertheless, within a year Robes- 
pierre secured a decree recognizing a 
Supreme Being and the immortality of 
the soul. 

Belief in the existence of God being per- 
sistent, it is doubtless true, otherwise it 
would die; for nothing is more perishable 
than that which is false. 

The unconquerable and undying con- 
viction that there is a God is as universal 
as nature itself; for "Nature is but the 
name for an effect whose cause is God." 
This is so manifest to men of reason that 
perhaps all such agree with Bacon, who 
says quite sententiously that, "God never 
wrought miracles to convince atheism, be- 
cause his ordinary works convinceth." 

The universe does proclaim the exist- 
ence of God. His works are solid words 
declaring that he is and ever has been and 
ever will be. 

Unless we accept the absurdities of 
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philosophical skepticism, which decries the 
possibility of all knowledge of everything 
whatsoever, we know that we and the 
universe around us have real existence. 
If we cannot know that much, all knowl- 
edge is more unsubstantial and useless 
than a dream; we cannot so much as 
dream that we dream. 

But, if we know that we are, and that 
the universe is, we are forced by the im- 
perative necessity of thought to seek an 
explanation of the existence of ourselves 
and all beings and things outside our- 
selves. By the same necessity of reason 
we are shut up to one of three explications : 
First, all that is, whether material or im- 
material, is uncaused and has existed 
externally. Second, or all that exists is 
the last effect of an infinite succession of 
causes, stretching backward in an endless 
and eternal chain. Third, or that all that 
is has issued from a final and self-existent 
cause back of which we cannot go. 

In each and all of these three theories 
inheres the conception of the Eternal. It 
is sometimes assumed that religion alone 
brings forward this conception, but such 
is not the case. No difficulty of conceiving 
the Eternal, the Absolute and the Uncon- 
ditioned arises in theology which is not 
involved in philosophy as well. 

The matter to be considered is, which is 
most reasonable, the theory of the eternity 
of the universe, or the theory of the end- 
less chain of causes and effects extending 
into an eternal past; or the doctrine of a 
final and self-existent Cause, from which 

5 



has been sprung all that is and without 
which nothing has been, is now, or ever 
will be. Which of these hypotheses solves 
most satisfactorily the problem of exist- 
ence, a problem which all things force us 
to face? 

We cannot believe in the eternity of 
matter. Science as well as theology for- 
bids the acceptance of that baseless notion ; 
for the progress of science has established 
completely and conclusively that every- 
thing perceived by our senses has had a 
beginning in time and has a derivative 
and dependent nature. Scientists tell us 
with confidence the age of the rocks and 
inform us of when the deepest oceans and 
the highest mountains began to be. If, 
therefore, we seek to find what is eternal, 
science declares that it is not in the earth 
below nor in the heavens above, nor in 
the waters under the earth. All things 
demand that we look above and beyond 
them for that which is eternal. The 
universe is an effect ; it cannot be that it is 
eternal. The human mind rejects peremp- 
torily the superstitious dogma of the 
eternity of all things. 

And the conception of an endless chain 
of effects and causes, extending into a by- 
gone eternity, is equally repugnant to 
reason. No man has ever seriously enter- 
tained for long that preposterous con- 
clusion. "The human mind universally 
and instantaneously rejects it as incon- 
ceivable, unthinkable, self-contradictory, 
absurd. We may believe either in a self- 
existent God or in a self-existent world, 

6 



and we must believe in one or the other; 
we cannot believe in an infinite regress 
of causes. The alternatives of a self- 
existent cause and an infinite regress of 
causes are not, as some would represent, 
equally creditable alternatives. The one 
is undeniable truth, the other is a manifest 
absurdity. The one all men believe, the 
other no man believes." (Flint's "The- 
ism.") 

Since we cannot believe that the uni- 
verse is eternal, or that it is the last effect 
of an endless regress of causes and conse- 
quences, we are compelled to believe in a 
final and self-existent First Cause. 

What, or who, is that First Cause? 

It must be One Cause. The First 
Cause must be a unit; for there cannot 
be more than one Eternal. Hence, the 
whole universe, by its very name as well 
as by its nature, cries out against every 
form of polytheism. In the essential 
nature of the First Cause there must be 
life and mind; for life and mind appear 
in the universe, and an effect can never 
contain an element superior to its pro- 
ducing cause. The self-existent First 
Cause, therefore, must be living and 
intelligent; for the nonliving cannot 
originate the living and the nonintelli- 
gent cannot produce the intelligent. 

The First Cause must be a free cause. 
Otherwise blind fate is the foundation of 
all things, and capricious chance brings 
order out of chaos. Freedom must inhere 
in the First Cause, or it is not the final 
cause at all. "It is absurd to look for it 



among effects. But we never get out of 
the sphere of effects until we enter that of 
free agency; until we emerge from the 
natural into the spirit; until we leave 
matter and reach mind. The First Cause, 
must indeed, be in — all through— the uni- 
verse; but it must also be out of the uni- 
verse, anterior to, and above the universe. 
The idea of cause is a delusion, the search 
for causes is inexplicable folly, if there is 
no First Cause and that First Cause be not 
a Free Cause, a Will, a Spirit, a Person." 
Such is the irrefragible conclusion reached 
by that profound thinker, Dr. Robert 
Flint, in his monumental work on "The- 
ism"; and to the same conclusion all the 
Jaws and logical processes of thought in- 
evitably lead us. In poetic form, as well 
as philosophic power, Addison, the great 
master of elegant style and profound 
thought sings this supreme truth: 

The spacious firmament on high, 

With all the blue ethereal sky, 

And spangled heavens a shining frame, 

Their great Original proclaim. 

Th' unwearied sun, from day to day, 

Doth his Creator's power display, 

And publishes to every land 

The work of an almighty hand. 

Soon as the evening shades prevail, 
The moon takes up the wondrous tale; 
And nightly, to the listening earth, 
Repeats the story of her birth: 
While all the stars that round her burn . 
And all the planets in their turn, 
Confirm the tidings, as they roll, 
And spread the truth from pole to pole. 

What though, in solemn silence, all 
Move round the dark, terrestrial ball? 
What though no real voice, nor sound. 
Amid the radiant orbs be found? 
In reason's ear they all rejoice, 
And utter forth a glorious voice, 
Forever singing as they shine, 
"The hand that made us divine." 

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The stars in their courses fight against 
atheism, and all nature refuses to give it 
credit. Human reason rejects it, and the 
heart of mankind turns away from it with 
a feeling akin to loathing. 

And its consequences are as pernicious 
as its conclusions fallacious. Its principles 
that poison the mind do also pollute the 
soul and pervert the lives of men. 

An atheist there may be here and there 
who, moved by the moral momentum de- 
rived from a pious ancestry back of him, 
or drawn by the influence from religious 
society around him, may maintain an out- 
ward morality and a commendable decency 
of conduct; but, the life which he thus lives 
is higher than the line of his tenets, and his 
tenets constantly tend to drag his life to 
the low plane of his infidelity. 

The spread of atheism is coincident 
with the march of anarchy. Irreligion 
among any people means, in so far as it 
prevails, insecurity for life, liberty, and 
property. 

To this effect James Russell Lowell 
spoke years ago with great truth and force 
as follows: 

The worst kind of religion is no religion at all. Those who 
are living in ease and luxury and indulging themselves in the 
amusement of going without religion may be thankful that they 
lived in lands where the gospel they neglect has tamed the 
beastliness and ferocity of men, who, but for Christianity, might 
long ago have eaten their carcasses like the South Sea Islanders, 
or cut off their heads and tanned their hides like the monsters 
of the French Revolution. When the microscopic search of 
skepticism, which has hunted the heavens and sounded the 
seas to disprove the existence of a Creator, has turned its atten- 
tion to human society and has found a place on this planet, ten 
miles square, where a decent man can live in decency, comfort, 
and security, supporting and educating his children, unspoiled 
and unpolluted; a place where age is reverenced, infancy pro- 
tected, manhood respected, womanhood honored, and human 
life held in due regard, when skepticism can find such a place on 



this globe, where the gospel of Christ has not cleared the way 
and laid the foundations and made decency and security pos- 
sible, it will then be in order for the skeptical literati to move 
thither and there ventilate their false theories. 

Atheism is to be condemned, further, for 
the hopelessness which it engenders and 
the despair which it begets. To be with- 
out God is to be without hope in the world ; 
and pessimism is the perpetual secretion 
which exudes from the atheistic system. 
If atheism were universal, it would destroy 
the buoyancy of courage among men and 
arrest all the material and moral progress 
of mankind. 

Can that be true which thus demoralizes 
the lives and depresses the souls of men? 
Can truth work so perniciously? Can a 
good tree yield such foul fruit? 

If atheism is judged by its fruits, it 
must be condemned as a noxious plant 
bearing a baneful product. 

Where in a system which denies the 
existence of a personal God is to be found 
motives for heroic self-sacrifice to promote 
the welfare of mankind? Wherein is 
there the slightest inspiration for benevo- 
lence or the feeblest support for virtue? 
What force inheres in it to promote human 
happiness or to soothe human sorrow? 
What balm does it offer for the woes that 
fill the world ? 

What has it done to advance knowledge, 
elevate culture, or further the enlighten- 
ment of the human race? 

Where are the educational institutions 
it has established or the hospitals it has 
erected? What wounded bodies has it 

10 



healed, or what broken hearts has it 
helped ? 

If atheism should disappear utterly 
from among men, the world would not be 
less holy or less happy; but mankind 
would be far more pure and peaceful and 
joyous. 

But wnat would follow the death of all 
religion? Its departure would be the 
greatest calamity that could befall the 
human race. All earth's music would be 
hushed in the saddest silence and all its 
piety would wither and perish. All laws 
would fail and all order would cease. Civil 
government, bereft of its strongest sup- 
port, would totter and fall. Science would 
expire in darkness. Life would be divested 
of its holiness, beauty, and hope. Death, 
dreadful death, would be the end of all — 
and end in rayless gloom! 

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